The Dali Lama said to live one's life without regrets. I've always loved that, because it has multiple meanings. Firstly, don't do the things you are going to regret later. Try to live, right now, in the way you wont regret. Think before you act. But also, once you have done thel iving, stop regretting. Move forward. Can't change the past and all that.
And that is fine advice for interactions with aging parents or other rellies.
I was in New York for TG, to visit family, with, alas, no time for friends. But I did make time to visit my aging aunt, one of my father's two surviving sisters. She is in her early 90s, and frail. She wants to do things for me (make lunch, give me ice cream) and it is painful to watch, both because it is so hard for her, and she wants so much to give me things. I finally did reach out, take her hand, and say "Aunt Bas, I love you, just sit down and talk to me. Tell me stories about your mother, my grandmother, and all the family I never knew".
I started visiting her a while ago, when another cousin Amy, with whom I have stayed in touch, urged me to do this when I visit NY. I hadn't seen this aunt in over 50 years, as she and my father were not close. But I try and go regularly and send her letters (phone calls are hard given her deafness, and Skype is out of the question). For my part, I want to help her. Her apartment is a disaster. Not hoarder status, but piles of boxes and old NYTimes everywhere. She said her bills are a mess. I want to sit down and sort them out for her. But she has an adult daughter, Evie, my age, who comes and helps her. My aunt complains about what her daughter doesn't have time for. But, I suspect this is a case of everyone being the hero of their own story. If I was that daughter, and some other relative wanted to step in and help, I'd tell them to get lost. I want to help, but I do not know what I can do, other than visit when I can, and even when its difficult for me to do. I will call my cousin Evie, who I don't really know and I haven't seen since we were kids (which is that same 50 years ago).
I ask myself, now, what would I regret here? I would regret causing any pain to my cousin, Evie, my Aunt's daughter. Her road is plenty challenging as is. I would regret not learning more from my Aunt Bas. She is really the last link I have to their generation. My parents lived in New York when they were young. My mother went to Hunter College. She lived at the 92nd St Y. I do not know much more about their life their, other then a few apocryphal stories about how they met. And that my father introduced Aunt Bas to her future husband. But, my parents, what did they do? Where did they go? What was their New York? I will never know, and I try not to regret not knowing.
So, I will be respectful of my cousin, who is probably in the horrible place I've talked about so many times. And I will visit my aunt, and love her, and see my father in her face and her words and her mannerisms. And I will not regret.